Twitter Mailbag: With title held hostage, what are UFC lightweights fighting for?

What’s going on with the UFC lightweight title, both the interim and the real one? Who’s the biggest what-if in MMA history? Who needs a win the most at UFC 218? And if you get dropped by a punch in one fight, should you be allowed to try it again three weeks later?

All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.

Recent comments from UFC President Dana White suggest that the UFC is no hurry to take any drastic action regarding Conor McGregor and his lightweight title. He’s off living out the before-the-fall part of the fame life cycle, blowing off court dates and reportedly feuding with organized crime figures like some sort of Irish 2Pac, while the other fighters in his division can only guess at a return date.

Tony Ferguson is losing his patience, and you can understand why. This is his shot. But for some reason White doesn’t think the interim champ is entitled to know when or even if he might get a chance to unify the belt. Then you’ve got guys like Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, who are probably going to put on a fireworks display at UFC 218 with no clear idea as to where a win would get them.

It’d be a crappy situation in any division, but it’s especially crappy at lightweight, where there are a ton of good fighters and a belt that’s essentially being held hostage for the next monster payday.

You get the sense that, in any other weight class, with any other champion, the UFC would have done something about it by now. But not McGregor. Not now.

It’s got to beJose Aldo. He’s in one of the most talent-rich divisions in the UFC, fighting for a belt that used to be practically glued to him, and he’s fighting the last person to put him away. The only reason he even got the shot again so soon is because someone else got hurt. Luckily he was already in camp, but no one’s going to care about the short notice if he shows up and loses to Max Holloway again. He’ll have to murder the entire division to get another crack at that belt, at least as long as Holloway is holding it down.

Alistair Overeem? He could lose his next three in a row and probably not get cut, if only because the UFC isn’t about to help Bellator out like that.

And Henry Cejudo? If he hits a roadblock on his path back to a bantamweight title fight, it’s not the end of the world. He can just beat a few more potential challengers and wait to see if the UFC has come up with any better ideas for Demetrious Johnson.

It’s Aldo who’s fallen from the greatest height. And it’s Aldo who has the toughest path back to the top.

 

It seems we (and here I mean the UFC) have decided to act like Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm for the UFC featherweight title was the headliner all along. Ta-da!

Seriously, it’s not a bad main event. Holm represents Cyborg’s biggest test in years, and Cyborg remains the most dominant female fighter on the planet. So, yeah, you bet your lasagna I want to see that fight. But what you seem to be asking is, is it enough?

It’s a fair question, especially since this is the year-end event, which the UFC usually tries to make a pretty big deal out of. When you’re closing out the “biggest year ever,” you want to do it with a bang. But Cyborg vs. Holm (with Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Edson Barboza as a co-main event) doesn’t quite rise to the level of year-end blowout madness. It’s just another solid overall card, but positioned in a spot on the calendar where we typically expect more.

You leave Dan Henderson out of this. You hear me?! That man is retired, and you’re going to let him be retired. Now let us hear no more of this idea.

Bellator. You just described Bellator. Or at least the parts of it that draw the most viewers.

That’s one of the tricky things about using current UFC fighters as on-air commenters. They have their allegiances, and at times their own aims to consider, and that can’t help but color their outlook.

I wouldn’t say Daniel Cormier is necessarily required to play it straight at all times just because he also gets paid for talking into a microphone, but you would hope that he’d understand the mechanics at play in this instance.

If you’re Ferguson, you’ve got to be thinking of that interim belt as a ticket to a huge payday against McGregor. Why would you even consider trading that ticket in for (legitimately dope, but nowhere near as lucrative) fight with Nurmagomedov?

Cormier’s been around this game long enough to do that math for himself. There’s trying to help out a teammate, and then there’s being willfully obtuse.

First of all, I see what you’re doing with the intercontinental/interim champ thing and I am into it. Like, so into it I may just straight up steal it. Consider yourself warned, Josh.

Second of all, you make a valid point, even if it comes with a couple asterisks. For instance, Georges St-Pierre took the title off Michael Bisping, but a) Bisping was the least fearsome middleweight champ in forever, and b) you’ll notice GSP is in no hurry to fight the other guy.

Then there’s the other guy in question, Robert Whittaker. True, he was a welterweight once. When he was in his early twenties. He won the TUF tournament as a welterweight just before he turned 22, so it’s very possible that he’s grown into a middleweight as he’s gotten older.

I don’t mean to pour cold water all over your theory, because I’d love a compelling argument for fighters to stop cutting extreme amounts of weight and fight closer to their natural body weights. I’m just not sure this is the smoking gun we’re looking for.

You’re not wrong. It’s just that I can’t get myself to take a side in a fight like this, which is to say a fight that seems like it’s meant as an offering to the very idea of violence itself. All I ask of Gaethje and Alvarez is that they both go out there and be who it is in them to be. Beyond that, let the blood spill where it may.

A fighter can get dropped without being concussed, but concussions aren’t necessarily a prerequisite for brain trauma. A lot of the research suggests that the repeated sub-concussive blows are a big part of the problem, such as what a fighter might endure when sparring and then fighting and then sparring and fighting again without a significant rest period.

As for how long that rest period needs to be, no one can give you a definitive answer. At least, not yet. I’ve spoken to neurologists and researchers who study this kind of thing, and they seem to agree that there’s no test that can tell you for sure when it’s safe to go get hit in the head again.

That’s what really makes you wonder about the Bisping situation. His initial suspension from the New York State Athletic Commission was 30 days, which isn’t much in a sport where fighters usually go at least two or three months between bouts.

Then Bisping wanted to step up three weeks later – and the UFC clearly wanted him to – and the next thing you know his suspension has been reduced to seven days, which is utterly meaningless, since what you’re saying there is that it would be safe for him to fight again eight days after going three hard rounds in a losing effort against GSP.

Was it safe? I mean, it’s never totally safe. Is there any way he could have conclusively, medically proven his fitness to fight again so soon? Not really, no. All he could really have proven is that it wasn’t unreasonably dangerous. Seems like the desire for everybody to stay friends and keep making money carried things the rest of the way.

Like who? One of the stated goals of this tournament is to crown a Bellator heavyweight champion, which is something the organization hasn’t had since the spring of 2016 when it stripped Vitaly Minakov of the belt that he had no interest in defending.

(Side note: He was only the third heavyweight champ in Bellator’s history. The first, Cole Konrad, gave up the belt when he quit MMA altogether to become a commodities trader. That’s how prized a possession this belt has been – at least one champ decided he would rather get a job.)

It’s not just a Bellator problem. There aren’t a ton of quality heavyweights anywhere in MMA. If there were, the UFC wouldn’t have had to go get Anthony Hamilton out of his short-lived retirement just so he could lose his fourth in a row earlier this month.

Plus, we all know the real goal of this tournament, and it’s to create a spectacle worthy of our attention. For that, you need familiar names, and while Bellator has a few of those at heavyweight (thanks to some recent signings), it doesn’t have enough. So you convince a few other guys to hit the buffet and the next thing you know you have a tournament. The start of one, anyway.

That’s a tough one, but I’ve got to go with Ben Askren. At least Fedor Emelianenko ended up in Affliction, where he beat two recent UFC heavyweight champs, and then Strikeforce, where he lost to one future one before his career really hit the skids. He may have never fought under the UFC banner, but he fought enough UFC fighters that we at least got a sense of where he stood, albeit somewhat later in his career.

But Askren, who’s the most accomplished fighter he faced? Probably Douglas Lima. Maybe Andrey Koreshkov as an honorable mention. Then you’ve got an aging Shinya Aoki fighting out of his weight class and Jay Hieron in his post-IFL and Strikeforce era.

There’s not too much there that you can use to gauge how he would have done against the best in his division, which is a real bummer. But maybe that’s the way it’ll have to stay.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.

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Ben Askren reminds us what MMA is and isn't, even in retirement

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As retirement fights go, Ben Askren’s couldn’t have been much more fitting. On the other side of the world, against an opponent who had no business being in there with him, he worked a can opener to a suffocating ground-and-pound attack, earning the quickest stoppage of his nearly nine-year career.

And now it’s over. You know, unless …

Unless he gets what he’s always wanted, which is the chance to prove he’s the best.

According to Askren’s immediate post-retirement callout, that opportunity would have to come in a fight with current UFC middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre. The bruises on Shinya Aoki’s face from ONE Championship 65 were still fresh and already Askren was throwing out the invite in GSP’s direction, which is telling in its own way.

First of all, Askren’s a welterweight. If he’s going to challenge someone to prove he’s the best in his weight class, why not challenge UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley, who also happens to be a friend and training partner? Actually, you know what, think I just answered my own question there.

So then fine, it’s up a division to talk some smack to St-Pierre (26-2 MMA, 20-2 UFC), who’s still known as the greatest welterweight in MMA history, not to mention one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time. And if he also has the distinction of being one of the biggest pay-per-view draws in the sport, hey, even better.

But the UFC’s not about to even consider that, right? You’ve got a cash cow like GSP just sitting there with a title around his waist, and you’re going to feed him to a human cement mixer like Askren (18-0), one who’s been off fighting for ONE in Southeast Asia these last few years, where he is effectively invisible to all but the hardest core of MMA fans? It’s madness.

That right there tells you something about this sport, doesn’t it? The reason Askren stands so little chance of getting a fight with GSP isn’t because he’s not good enough. Skill doesn’t even enter into the conversation. Style certainly does, but that’s not the same as skill, and it’s skill that most sports purport to measure with their competitions.

As you probably already know, MMA is not most sports. It doesn’t function the same, doesn’t follow any of the usual rules. You could conceivably be the best, and it could simply not matter. The career arc of Askren is proof of that.

Remember when he exited Bellator as the undefeated champion back in 2013? Then, as now, no one could say they’d seen the ceiling for Askren, because no one could say they’d seen him beaten. It’s the simplest calculus there is. As long as you’re still undefeated, hey, for all we know you might be the best. That is, at least in theory, why we keep giving you tougher competition as you progress, in order to find out if there’s anyone who can beat you.

Askren didn’t get the chance, because the UFC refused to sign him. It wanted him to get some more experience, preferably in the organization now known as PFL, which at the time was WSOF. Nevermind that he was a highly decorated amateur wrestler who was unbeaten in 12 pro MMA fights. (Side note: Of the 24 fighters to compete at UFC Fight Night 122 in Shanghai this past weekend, 10 of them had 12 pro bouts or fewer when they showed up.)

So Askren took his talents across the globe and spent the next four years beating people you never heard of at events you probably didn’t watch. Some of that was Askren being stubbornly independent, but some of it was necessity.

Having done more than what is typically required to get a shot in the UFC, and having finagled his release from the UFC’s main competitor, he was denied the chance he had clearly earned. And, vague promises about WSOF aside, there was nothing he could do that would guarantee an opportunity to compete in the UFC. So he followed the money elsewhere, which was an entirely reasonable decision.

Now here we are, nearing the end of 2017. At 33, Askren is still undefeated and without a ton of miles on his body’s odometer, and he’s willing to reconsider retirement for a shot at GSP. Of course he is. And the UFC likely won’t even consider it, because of course it won’t.

This isn’t that kind of sport, where being really good is good enough. It never really has been. It’s just that we forget sometimes, either because we want to or because we get tricked by talk of rankings and wins and the earning of title shots, those little things promoters feed us to make us believe that the game is driven by sense and not just dollars.

Every once in a while, we need to be reminded how it really works – and how it doesn’t. For the last few years, Askren’s been a walking, talking reminder that, while MMA takes place as a series of athletic competitions, it’s still not exactly a sport.

Now he’s leaving, or so he says. Let the circumstances of his withdrawal be one last reminder. Unless …

For complete coverage of “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit,” visit the MMA Events section of the site.

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ONE Championship 65 highlights: Ben Askren bids farewell, 'undefeated forever'

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Ben Askren went out with a bang.

Askren (18-0), ONE Championship’s unbeaten welterweight titleholder, needed just 57 seconds to score a TKO win over Japanese notable Shinya Aoki (39-8) in the main event of Friday’s “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit.” The victory was Askren’s retirement fight – or so he announced back in September, though he left the door cracked open for a return.

ONE Championship 65, which took place at Singapore Indoor Stadium, streamed as an online pay-per-view in North America.

You can check out the main-card highlights in the video above.

For more on ONE Championship 65, visit the MMA Events section of the site.

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Did Ben Askren challenge Georges St-Pierre right after his retirement fight, and what does that mean?

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Did Ben Askren really fight for the last time on Friday at “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit?”

For the time being, at least, the answer is yes.

Askren, ONE’s undefeated welterweight champion, made quick work of Japanese notable Shinya Aoki with a 57-second TKO finish in the pay-per-view headliner at Singapore Indoor Stadium. It was dubbed Askren’s retirement fight following an announcement in September. In the moments after his win, though, Askren didn’t completely shut the door on fighting again.

What could bring him back to the cage? “If I get the opportunity to prove I’m No.1,” he said.

But if this truly was it for Askren, his dominant performance puts an exclamation mark on a decorated MMA career, albeit a career that isn’t without question. Or, as he describes it, “enigmatic.”

“My career is enigmatic, for sure,” Askren, who also was Bellator’s champ from 2010 to 2013, told ESPN.com. “There are people who just don’t like me and say I suck, but there’s no way you can say decisively I wasn’t the best in the world. I’m in a weird place for most people. They don’t really know where to put me.

“I haven’t been given the chance to prove it, and MMA is a crazy sport, but I think I’ve been the best welterweight in the world since about 2012.”

When Askren says he wasn’t given the chance to prove his greatness, he’s talking about the obvious: He never fought in the UFC. And that still seems to bother him.

Askren met with the UFC as a free agent in 2013 but couldn’t land a deal with the industry leader. Had that happened, who knows? We might’ve seen him fight Georges St-Pierre, the current UFC middleweight champion who back then was the undisputed welterweight king – except, of course, to anyone who believes Askren (18-0) posed a serious threat St-Pierre (26-2 MMA, 20-2 UFC) with his wrestling pedigree as a two-time NCAA champion.

A lot of MMA fans feel robbed they never got to see that fight. It’s also the fight Askren wishes for most, otherwise how do you explain this tweet in the hours following his retirement fight?

@GeorgesStPierre how’s the spring weather in Montreal? I hear it’s a nice time to test your true Martial Arts skills

Did you hear that? That was the sound of Askren creaking the door open just a little bit more on a future comeback. Because if we never get that fight, or get to see him in the UFC, we’ll forever debate his place in MMA history. We will always wonder “what if.”

Sounds like Askren will, too.

For more on ONE Championship 65, visit the MMA Events section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

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Relive ONE Championship titleholder Ben Askren's retirement fight in photos

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ONE Championship welterweight titleholder Ben Askren put an exclamation point on his MMA career with one final dominant performance in his retirement fight.

Askren (18-0) needed just 57 seconds to score a TKO win over Japanese notable Shinya Aoki (39-8) in the main event of today’s “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit.” The event, which took place at Singapore Indoor Stadium, streamed as an online pay-per-view in North America.

Askren, 33, leaves behind a decorated MMA career that includes an undefeated record with long title reigns in both ONE and Bellator before that.

Take a look at photo highlights of his final fight in the video above and gallery below.

For more on ONE Championship 65, visit the MMA Events section of the site.

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ONE Championship 65 results: Ben Askren stops Shinya Aoki with 57-second TKO in retirement fight

It took ONE Championship welterweight titleholder Ben Askren less than a minute to close the final chapter of his career.

And, at 33, he’s taking an unbeaten record into retirement.

Askren (18-0) confirmed his heavy favorite status with a TKO over Japanese notable Shinya Aoki (39-8) in the headlining affair of today’s “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit.”

The event, which took at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore, streamed as an online pay-per-view in North America.

After a couple punches were exchanged, Aoki quickly jumped to guard. Askren responded by slamming him to the ground, then followed with heavy punches from the top. As Aoki crumpled up, the ref jumped in to stop the fight just 57 seconds in.

Asked to confirm whether the headlining affair was definitely his goodbye from MMA, Askren repeated the same thing he’d been saying in the lead-up to the matchup.

“I think it’s it,” Askren said. “I did leave that caveat, if I get the opportunity to prove I’m No.1 – I think I’m No. 1. I know I’m No. 1. I haven’t gotten to prove to the world I’m No. 1. So if I get that opportunity, (I’d) take that opportunity.

“I don’t need to make any more money. I need to show people that I’m the best welterweight in the world. Other than that, I’m out.”

Askren currently is ranked No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings. Considering the No. 1 fighter is his friend and Roufusport stablemate Tyron Woodley, the UFC’s welterweight champion, that would be a tough definition to make right now. In the meantime, the retired champ is just looking forward to enjoying some Christmas grub.

Pang hangs tough, but Amir Khan scores unanimous nod

It wasn’t a knockout, but 23-year-old Amir Khan’s kick-heavy striking game, distance control and overall composure were more than enough to earn him the unanimous nod over the experienced Adrian Pang in a lightweight encounter.

Khan was aggressive off the bat, making sure to use his reach advantage by keeping the distance with a variety of head kicks and attacks on Pang’s lead leg. Pang remained patient, defending the high blows and looking to get in the pocket. Thrice in the first round, Pang advanced with a flurry of punches to press Khan against the cage, but was unable to secure a takedown.

The damage on Pang’s lead leg showed in Round 2. The Aussie’s attempts to take Khan to the mat worked late in the frame, but Khan was able to get back up immediately after  two consecutive takedowns. Khan also landed solid strikes, including one on-the-button head kick, but Pang ate them.

Khan had less space to work with in Round 3, but Pang’s grit was still not enough to turn things around. Khan, who’s now on a six-fight streak. hadn’t needed the scorecards to get a win since his pro debut.

“(Pang) may be old in age, but he’s still got the heart of a young lion,” Khan said after the bout.

Dae Hwan Kim is no match to Leandro Issa’s smothering ground game

Leandro Issa (15-6) didn’t get the first-round kimura submission he’d predicted, but he didn’t exactly struggle against Dae Hwan Kim (12-2-1), either.

Kim probably knew exactly what Issa wanted to do in their bantamweight encounter, but that didn’t stop the Brazilian from accomplishing it. The lauded Brazilian grappler was quick to get the battle where he wanted from the start, pressuring his striker counterpart toward the cage and taking him down early in the first round.

The next two rounds followed similar script: Issa smothered Kim from top position on the ground, with the occasional trip to his opponent’s back. Kim resisted submission attempts and hung in there just enough to survive the elbows and short punches that rained down. But, apart from two brief scrambles in Rounds 1 and 3, surviving was basically all that Kim did.

ONE Championship 65 results included:

MAIN CARD (Online pay-per-view)

PRELIMINARY CARD (Untelevised)

  • Arnaud Lepont def. Richard Corminal via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 1, 3:16
  • Muhammad Aiman def. Yang Fei via unanimous decision
  • Miao Li Tao def. Sim Bunsrun via TKO (strikes) – Round 1, 1:49

For more on ONE Championship 65, visit the MMA Events section of the site.

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ONE Championship's November lineup? Open-weight fight, champ-vs.champ, retirement title bout

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By all measures, November could be the biggest month for ONE Championship, which boasts a handful of can’t-miss fights.

The Asian promotion recently released the above trailer to highlight the November slate of events and fights.

Here’s what’s on tap for the shows, all of which stream as online pay-per-views in North America:

Nov. 3 – “ONE Championship 63: Hero’s Dream” at Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar

In the headliner, which is billed as “the world champion vs. the giant,” middleweight titleholder Aung La N Sang (20-10) takes on muay Thai heavyweight champion Alain Ngalani (3-3), who recently scored an 11-second win at ONE Championship 61.

Nov. 10 – “ONE Championship 64: Legends of the World” at Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines

The headliner is a champion-vs.-champion bout as lightweight titleholder Eduard Folayang (18-5) takes on featherweight champ Martin Nguyen (9-1). Folayang’s lightweight belt is on the line.

Nov. 24 – “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit” at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore

This card features two big title fights. In the headliner, women’s atomweight champion Angela Lee (8-0) rematches Mei Yamaguchi (16-10-1), who’s the only fighter to take the champ the distance. And in the co-headliner, 170-pound champ Ben Askren (17-0), who’s No. 6 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings, fights for the final time when he takes on big-show vet and Japanese notable Shinya Aoki (39-7) in his retirement fight.

For more on ONE Championship 63, ONE Championship 64 and ONE Championship 65, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

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Chairman takes umbrage with UFC's 'patently false' remarks about ONE Championship fighters

On Nov. 24, ONE Championship returns to Singapore with two belts on the line and a major retirement fight. And then, on Nov. 25, the UFC lands in Shanghai with one of its all-time greats as a headliner.

At first glance, one could probably see a correlation there. But, according to ONE Championship founder and chairman Chatri Sityodtong, the date picked for their “ONE: Immortal Pursuit” event has nothing to do with the UFC’s debut in mainland China.

“We really don’t build our business around our competitors and what they’re doing,” Sityodtong said on a conference call in support of the event, which streams live online via pay-per-view from Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore. We build our business for our fans, for our advertisers, for our sponsors, for our broadcasters, for our athletes, for our staff, for anyone who’s directly involved with the ONE Championship ecosystem.”

“It just so happens that we have an event on Nov. 24 and the UFC has an event I think a couple days later, whatever it is. But it’s in a different country. This is nothing that’s on my mind.”

Still, Sityodtong isn’t shy about defending some of their own athletes compared to those of other promotions. Asked about undefeated champion Ben Askren, who’s set to have his retirement fight in the headlining bout, Sityodtong said he would still like to see him cement his legacy as the best 170-pounder in MMA history by testing himself against one of the UFC’s titleholders.

So long, Sityodtong clarified, as that person isn’t the UFC’s current 170-pound leader Tyron Woodley – who happens to train with the One Championship kingpin at Roufusport, in Milwaukee, where Askren is also a head wrestling coach.

“If you ask people who are in the know in the MMA community in America and around the world, everyone knows that Ben Askren is the single best welterweight on the planet,” Sityodtong said. “I would love to see UFC vs. One Championship welterweights go at it. Unfortunately, Tyron is also a great friend of Ben and a good friend of mine, as well. So anyone other than Tyron, I would love to see that as Ben’s final match against a UFC welterweight champion.”

At 33, Askren (17-0) has given a few reasons as to why he’s fine with his One Championship 65 battle with Shinya Aoki (39-7) being his last. But, speaking to The MMA Hour, he did leave the door open for a return under two conditions – that it’s for the No. 1 spot in the world and, again, that it isn’t against Woodley.

Sityodtong believes the promotion will have one of the greatest nights of its history with the upcoming event, which will also feature an atomweight title bout between 21-year-old champ Angela Lee (8-0) and Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi (16-10-1).

As Sityodtong made perfectly clear, the promotion is more focused on their own mission of celebrating “Asia’s greatest cultural treasure” in martial arts than on their competition. But that doesn’t mean they’re unaware of their competitors’ moves – or, better yet, their words.

When asked to further discuss his previous remarks about a possible matchup between Askren and a UFC titleholder, Sityodtong expressed his discontent with some of what was said in June, when UFC Fight Night 111 was brought to Singapore.

“A few months ago, the UFC threw an event in Asia, and some of the things they said to the media here were inaccurate,” Sityodtong said. “And some of them were patently false. And I felt the need to defend my athletes – whether it’s Ben Askren, whether it’s Shinya, whether it’s Angela Lee.

“They are, bar none, among the greatest martial artists on the planet, if not the greatest in their individual divisions.”

While Sityodtong didn’t really specify which remarks he was referring to, it might have something to do with former UFC executive Joe Carr’s dismissal of a cross-promotion fight with champ Lee, as reported by local outlet The Straits Times, on grounds of her being “fairways away” from competing in the UFC.

Sityodtong also went into further detail about the promotions’ influences in their respective markets. While they were fairly diplomatic, one could argue they also contrast with Carr’s remarks about the UFC’s actual influence in the Asian market.

“I think the UFC has done an amazing job in the Western hemisphere with their formula,” Sityodtong said. “And I think we’ve done an amazing job in the Eastern hemisphere with our formula. There is a global duopoly, just like any other industry.

“Just like Apple and Samsung, or General Motors and Toyota, or Amazon and Alibaba. There’s UFC and ONE Championship that control their respective hemispheres. I think that’s going to be a long time coming.

“There’s no industry, in the entire world, across any sector, where one player dominates the entire world. It never happened before in history. I don’t think it will ever happen. There’s always counterparts in two different geographic regions.”

For more on ONE Championship 65, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: News
Source: MMA Junkie

ONE Championship's Ben Askren eyes matchmaking job – but first, a successful finale

When longtime ONE Championship welterweight champion Ben Askren signed a contract extension with the Asia-based promotion at the end of 2015, he told his friends and family it would be his last.

By the end of 2017, his fighting days will be over.

Now just two months away from his final trip to the cage, Askren is trying to write the perfect ending – a professional MMA career of 18-0 – and set up his future.

“You have to be accepting of everything you’ve accomplished up to that point and accept that there’s a time to retire and move on to other pursuits in my life,” Askren (18-0) told MMAjunkie during a conference call in support of his career-ending fight against Shinya Aoki (39-7) at “ONE: Immortal Pursuit,” which takes place Nov. 24 at Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Askren, a two-time NCAA wrestling champ and former Bellator titleholder, doesn’t plan to stray too far from his core competency. He will coach wrestlers at his academy in Wisconsin. He expects to go to work for his promoter, first as a matchmaker and then as a marketer and manager.

“I’m excited and eager to jump at any task they throw my way,” Askren said. “But first and foremost, I’ve got to finish my career right.”

Askren didn’t feel as certain about his expiration date at 30, one month before he won the ONE title. At 33, though, he has no doubt his decision to step away from the cage is the right one. The physical demands no longer provide much allure.

“I used to love going in the gym every single day,” he said. “I used to be passionate about it. I couldn’t wait. There was nothing I was more excited for. And now, I frickin’ hate it.

“I’m disciplined enough to still do it. I’m disciplined to get up two times a day and go to the gym every day and not miss a workout. But I don’t like it any more. So I know it’s my time.”

Askren didn’t want to become another athlete who’d hung on too long, particularly in a sport where that choice could lead to serious injury. Plus, he wants to be a better parent and husband, and he can’t do that if he’s training and fighting full-time.

“I’m taking time out of those things, which I thoroughly enjoy, to be selfish about my own training and making sure I’m the best I can be,” he said.

One month after his final fight in Singapore, he’ll welcome his third child. Being the world’s best dad will be right next to being the world’s best MMA executive on his list of post-career goals.

A behind-the-scenes role is not entirely new for Askren. When he couldn’t find an opponent to compete against for his professional debut in 2009, he and a few buddies decided to start their own MMA promotion, Headhunter Productions. At a Holiday Inn a stone’s throw from his alma mater at the University of Missouri, he stopped his opponent in less than 2 minutes. Another Mizzou alum and Askren teammate made his debut that night: Tyron Woodley.

ONE Championship, which boasts a broadcast reach of one billion potential viewers, is obviously on a much bigger scale. But Askren expects his hard work will shorten his learning curve.

“Whatever I’ve taken to, I’ve had success at,” Askren said. “And I think it’s because I’m so disciplined and determined in what I do.”

For more on ONE Championship 65, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: Featured, News
Source: MMA Junkie

How good was Ben Askren? The sad part is, we'll probably never know

For the moment, let’s take Ben Askren at his word. Let’s say he really will retire after facing Shinya Aoki in November. Let’s say he walks away from active MMA competition forever at the age of 33, never to be seen in a cage or ring again.

Assuming he beats Aoki, which he should, he’ll finish his pro career with a record of 18-0 with one no-contest. Normally any unbeaten career would be impressive, but in Askren’s case the absence of losses is also a sign of the absence of meaningful competition.

He never discovered the limit of his own abilities, mostly because he never got the chance, which is perhaps a necessary reminder of how MMA differs from more traditional pro sports, and not always in the best ways.

To hear Askren tell it, he finagled his release from Bellator in 2013, despite being the reigning welterweight champion, because he was under the impression he’d then be signed by the UFC.

But once he was a free agent, suddenly the UFC decided it wasn’t interested. He should go somewhere else first, UFC President Dana White said. Let him sign with WSOF (which has since changed its name to the Professional Fighters League), and get some more experience. Then they’d talk.

This didn’t sit well with Askren. As anyone who’s met him knows, he doesn’t have the disposition for being bossed around. So instead of kissing the ring and waiting his turn, he signed with ONE Championship, opting to be the big fish in Southeast Asian MMA pond.

Now, after a little over three years of that, he’s had enough. So he says, anyway, though we all know how subject to revision these things can be.

But Askren’s reasons for retiring are all good ones. As he said on “The MMA Hour” this week, his body is feeling the effects of this demanding career, as is his personal life. So few fighters retire in time, he said, and he’d really rather not be one of the ones who hangs on too long.

The only thing that might get him to change his mind, according to Askren, would be if he were offered the fight he’s so far been denied.

“If it was for the No. 1 spot in the world,” Askren said. “Not two, not three, not four, not five – none of those spots. Against the No. 1 guy in the world.”

There’s something disheartening about the fact that a guy who’s never lost a fight has still never even come close to getting that opportunity. It reminds you that simply being good and winning all your fights isn’t enough. If your style isn’t exciting enough, or if the powers that be just don’t like your attitude, you might never get a shot. You could actually be the best in the world but never get a chance to prove it.

If that bothers Askren, he’s done a good job of hiding it. He’s always seemed to value his independence more than he values the opinions of others, so maybe the trade-off was worth it. He didn’t dance to the UFC’s tune, so he didn’t get to join the UFC’s party. There are worse ways for a career to unfold, I guess.

For those of us watching, however, it does make it harder to continue thinking of this sport as some sort of final martial arts proving ground, which was the promise of the early UFC events. Even now, the appeal of all those gold belts on the posters is that they ostensibly mean something. They tell us: This is to determine the best in the world.

Usually, that’s true, or at least as close to true as it can realistically be. But sometimes, as in the case of Askren, the world doesn’t seem to include absolutely everybody. And then all we can do is wonder.

For more on ONE Championship 65, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: News
Source: MMA Junkie